I want to try to describe our experience of going to church this week, a world away from going to church in the U.S., and yet with the same purpose and function of gathering as God’s people for corporate worship.
Our day started with a knock on the door at 6:20am. Bob was in the shower, so I pulled on some clothes and went, reluctantly and bleary-eyed, to answer the door. Our night-guard informed me that his daughter-in-law had come to fetch water for us, since we were in dire need of additional water. “Right now? Today?" I asked, clearly not recognizing this as a priority for 6:30 on Sunday morning. “Yes!” he said with a smile, “So that we can have drinking water.” So, I brought her inside, cleaned out our ‘water-fetching basin’, found some money, and she was able to bring 5 basins by the time we left for church!
We walked to the bus stop a few blocks from our house, hoping that we would be able to find one with a few places on it. Not as many mini-buses run on Sundays, but we were counting on the African spirit of “there is always room for one more person, if we just squeeze a little more.” We sat in the back of the mini-bus, a vehicle about the size of a mini-van in the US. In the back, where we were sitting, the benches make a U around the edge, so that goods can fit in the middle, or people can squat in the middle if the benches are full. We were packed in and I thought the bus was ‘full’ when I saw 5 young kids walk up to the bus. “Let the kids on; they’re angels on their way to church” encouraged one passenger, and they helped to sit the kids on laps or make room for them. I counted 32 people in the bus at that point—perhaps a new record for me. We were all grateful though, to be arriving at our destination in much less time than if we had to walk!
Bob was invited to help serve communion at the Lungandu parish, where we were visiting that day. That meant that he sat on the podium with Pastor Kabasele, and I happily got to sit on a ‘normal bench’ with the rest of the congregation. I happened to sit on the children’s bench, and it was cute watching them peak in the door at first, unsure whether it was OK to sit next to me. It didn’t take long before they were piling on to the bench, sitting on each other’s laps, each one convinced that one more could somehow fit on the bench! Many of the kids had to sit on the floor at the front or in the aisle. Aside from a few minor skirmishes, they sat remarkably quiet through the service with very little intervention from the adults.
The service started with songs from the choirs (4 choirs is the standard here in most churches). So many Congolese seem to be gifted in singing accapella and creating rhythm that is really fun to listen to. The rich voices of the young men’s choir echoed through the cement church building as they belt out a song about Job, who insisted that he would continue to honor God, despite advice of his wife and friends.
I was sitting next to an older woman, who could not stand or walk easily, but who looked very intent on being there for worship. She looked rather frail, but would let out a ‘whoop, whoop’ tune in time with the song of the women’s choir when the song got really good. On a particularly rhythmic song, she reached under the bench and got her shaker to add to the beat. She had a well-worn Bible and song-book, which she had to hold very close to read, but her passion and faithfulness were truly inspiring!
Pastor Kabasele preached about the covenant that God made with Israel, and the covenant that Jesus also made with people, which we celebrate when we take communion. We learned a new Tshiluba phrase during the message, “kutua ndondo”, referring to a ‘sealed covenant’, or one that can bring death if it is broken. Eating the bread and drinking the wine of communion demonstrate our participation in that type of covenant, and when we explored this with our Tshiluba teacher, we understood the sense of seriousness and reverence of the congregation on this day. Pastor Kabasele explained the significance of the bread and prayed over it, and then Bob did the same over the drink (juice, in this case). While the congregation sang, people filed forward to receive the elements from the Elders at the front of the church. It was a very meaningful and serious time of remembering Jesus’ death for us, and several people bowed slightly or genuflexed when they reached the place to take the elements. I appreciated the resourcefulness of the church – there were not enough ‘communion cups’, so medicine cups were used, which of course serve the same purpose!
The service ended about 1pm—only about 3 hours, which did not feel too long, given all the elements they pack into it! After the service, Pastor Kabasele invited Bob to accompany him via moto to serve communion to several members who were unable to come to church. One woman they saw had a serious shoulder injury; another was too weak to make the walk to church. At one house there were 10 family members who were all grateful to be able to have communion. This was Bob’s first time serving communion, and doing it in a new language is not an easy task! When they returned and served it to the women of the house where I was waiting for them, I was impressed that Bob was able to explain and pray as if he had done this a hundred times!
After a delicious lunch, we headed home, tired but happy for a great worship experience to start off the week. It was about 4pm by the time we reached home…Sundays tend to be a long day and we are ready for a nap when we get home. But inside, we felt alive, reminded of our salvation through Jesus’ death and God’s covenant with us.